During the 1960s and without the assistance of the Internet or other digital conveniences, Frank Abagnale made his mark as a social engineer. He portrayed himself as a variety of imposters and used techniques that would build confidence with his victims. Combining those talents with his forgery skills, he pulled off some of the most deceptive scams of all time - everything from impersonating a chief resident pediatrician at a hospital for almost a year to posing as an airline pilot to fly for free. While Abagnale used his knowledge and expertise for purposes of deceit, he later served his time and became a security consultant helping the FBI thwart similar crimes. His life was also depicted in the Stephan Spielberg film "Catch Me If You Can," with Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, and Leonardo DeCaprio. His special traits and the fact that he inspired a feature film led us to rank him the fourth best social engineer of all time.
#3. Chris Nickerson, CEO of Lares Consulting
Chris Nickerson is a modern day pioneer in the world of information security and social engineering and is a force to be reckoned with. He is a master at leveraging the latest technologies, has an extensive knowledge of physical security, and the guts to attempt projects most security experts would hesitate to do. Some of Chris's most notable experiences were seen on a TruTV reality show in which he demonstrated the weaknesses of a high-profile jewelry store and a sports car dealership. Using social engineering techniques and leveraging technology vulnerabilities, he gained entry into each location, compromising sensitive information, and accessing pricey merchandise, including an exotic sports car. Unlike Abagnale, Nickerson is a legit professional, hired by firms to conduct social engineering exploits in order to measure their risk and security weaknesses.
#2. Kevin David Mitnick
Kevin David Mitnick is a well known name in the world of security. His past includes a variety of social engineering exploits and hacks that led to the security breach of numerous Fortune 500 companies, as well as federal and state agencies. His expertise dates as far back as 1975, learning the vulnerabilities of everything from punch card systems to telecommunications. Mitnick's actions ultimately landed him in jail, and he served prison time for crimes that tested new laws relating to digital theft. But his social engineering techniques and technical abilities broke new ground in launching the information security industry. He has since reinvented himself and founded Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC, co-authored two books, and is bringing information security awareness to the world. Mitnick's actions, as controversial as they may appear, earn him the second place slot on our list.
Our number one choice for best social engineer was unanimous among the group. At first glance, the choice may seem rather odd, but this distinction goes to a man who achieved the following: he crafted a web portal and lured millions of people into his pocket. He established confidence and trust with his users, facilitating them to divulge the secrets of their lives by relinquishing personal information, habits, behaviors, activities, and media. He collected all of this information and then sold it legally for millions of dollars, unlike others who served harsh prison terms. Incredibly, he accomplished this in a time when identity theft has become household issue and guarding your personal information has become a way of life.
In case you have you not guessed our number one social engineer, it's Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook. Well done, Mark, 400 million people fell for your ruse.
Steve Stasiukonis is vice president and founder of Secure Network Technologies Inc.